Monday, October 11, 2010

The Corporate Massacre

My response to today's New York Times article by Ross Douthat, "Grading Schools Choice."
Here is a link to the article:

You say the 'movie' Waiting For Superman is propaganda. It is--it is a massive propaganda campaign against unions which, it goes without saying, mega wealthy corporations and business owners want to ultimately destroy. NO ONE has ever shown that unions are destroying our schools. Baldly stated, saying that unions are destroying our schools is a lie.

In fact the opposite is true: in states with strong unions, the teaching is strongest. States with no unions, such as in the South, have weak education. All the European countries you like to say we are losing against--well, their teachers have UNIONS. Contrary to the propaganda, the main function of a union is to protect GOOD teachers; you certainly CAN get fired if you're incompetent or negligent; and one of the main risks of no protection is exactly what happens in charter schools: In the vast majority of many privately owned charters, older good experienced teachers are nonexistent. Instead, they are filled with a rapidly revolving cadre of young frightened CHEAP workers. This is what Corporations want, folks.

For those who will argue something along the lines of: "In my private job, I can get fired at will and whim, so suck it up teachers,": I say: Just because conditions are horrible in private industries, does not mean they should be horrible in public schools. What does this mean? I suffer, so so should you. Unions were destroyed for me, so they should be for you, too. Envy and bitterness is not the way to make a decision; it is merely a way for corporations to play with your feelings, to manipulate you to agree with their anti-unions attacks.

Corporations smell money like vampires or sharks; their latest course of blood money are schools; what you and I see are children in need of an education; what they see is public money heretofore untapped. The alliance between corporatism and the military has been extremely profitable for a handful of gazillionaires. Next are schools. They just keep repeating the Big Lie, that unions are the cause of our schools' decay. IT IS A LIE. THERE IS ZERO PROOF. Anecdotes are just that: Anecdotes. For every anecdote you give about one dud teacher 'protected' by the union, I can give you 1000 of fabulous teachers protected by the union, or 100,000 who are simply great teachers while working in a union. THe complete and utter lack of evidence in their repeated attack on unions is proof that their goal is not to improve schools but to get rid of highly experienced -more expensive, potentially 'troublesome,' to corporations - teachers.

You then quote extensively from American Enterprise Institute. This organization is a highly conservative, highly influential, pro-business organization. It is funded by several private corporations such as Exxon and Phillip Morris. Its website states: "national and multinational corporations who support AEI maintain close relationships with the Institute's scholars and regularly receive top-level research and analysis on specific policy interests and priorities. In addition, corporations provide important input to AEI on a wide variety of issues. Corporate involvement with AEI includes special invitations to public and private events; AEI's full slate of research studies, articles, books and other publications; access to our scholars, fellows, and senior management; and more."

Readers: Ask yourselves why big business would suddenly care about education. Why are hedge fund managers suddenly so involved? THey send their own kids to elite private schools and have for years. They have no direct personal experience with public schools, nothing at stake, and zero expertise. Zero. Yet this article quotes extensively from a Pro-Corporate organization in a 'debate' about public schools that bashes unions. Think. Question. It is massive propaganda, that's right. And the goal is to make our schools as profitable for a handful of corporations as the military is now. Is that the future you want? The school-industrial complex? Filled with young frightened easily intimidated poorly paid 'workers,' um, teachers?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

One Year, One Job Later

Well (she sheepishly admits), it's been over a year since my last post. I was laid off of my last teaching job - no more Guardians of the World for me! - and to be honest didn't have the energy or will to update the blog. Before I go on, I should say that after seven months of unemployment, I was fortunate to land another job teaching high school English. By the way, 700 people applied for the job. Yes, 700. More on that. My new job is in a very different district, quite poor, two thirds white and one third African American. More on this too--many juicy stories, no fear.

But in the interim between my last post and now, the witchhunt against teachers has risen to fever pitch. Corporatists, politicians of both stripes, and their paid mouthpieces - the media - have been unanimous in trashing teachers. It's bizarre. You pick up the paper, you listen to Oprah, you turn on the TV, you listen to the radio, you go to the movies--and it's like one person is saying the same thing over and over and over. And very orchestrated at that. The narrative is simple:

Waiting For Millionaires

Our schools are bad. This is because of Bad Teachers. Our students would be learning, but bad deadwood teachers don't get off their lazy asses and can't get fired because of big bad lazy evil unions. Unionized teachers are lazy spoiled shits who are running our schools into the ground and the union makes them lazier and shittier. Women used to go into teaching because they had no choice, but now we're getting the dregs--just dumb blue collar non-Ivy-educated women. But charter schools are Good. Why? Because they are. They have no big bad evil unions. They have Young Enthusiastic Low-Paid Easily Duped worker-slaves, um, teachers. They are Good because they are run by private businessmen who, as everyone knows from Wall Street, are efficient, caring, and motivated by excellence. Cut to: random anecdote which shows how great charter schools are.

To anyone with any knowledge of actual public schools - rather than the fantasy served up in Hollywood or their childhood memories - these attacks are transparently the act of a powerful handful of mega-wealthy people who want to privatize our schools in order to turn a profit. That's it. If you keep that in mind, everything they say makes sense. These people will stick their blood funnels into anything that smells like money and with schools, they see a lot of untapped blood. They are vampires and sharks. They smell money and they want it.

So one day they turned their eye on public schools and saith unto themselves, "Gosh, that's an awful lot of government money spent on something without anybody getting rich off it." Why can't schools be more like, you know, the military? Now THAT'S a great corporate/government alliance!

This blog will NOT be a feel-good, let's-help-other-teachers-be-great blog. This blog will be a polemic, a political statement, and a reality check. I am the voice inside the doors. I am a living 'dead wood. I am a 'warm body' schools are supposedly so desperate to give tenure to.

From behind closed doors, I am the Voice of Teachers.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


     5/3/09-- Three administrators from Central, all three with arms folded and frowns on their faces, stare down at us as we walk into the library, like bad-ass bouncers at wedding you don’t want to be at.   We are herded to the round library tables, which, like a wedding banquet, mark each spot with a handwritten placard of our names.   In the middle of the table, like a centerpiece, are stacks and stacks of purple, green and canary yellow pieces of paper, collated and stapled.  I sit down next to five fellow English teachers, and two gym teachers I know only by sight. 

     We are at “In Service,” aka “Teacher Detention.”  Since our school district is considered among the ‘top’ ones in New Jersey, it prides itself on its ‘professional development.”  Did you know it has one of the “most extensive teacher development programs in the state?” I guess that's why they think we're at a wedding banquet.

     When the library has filled up with about 100 teachers – 8 per round table - one of the henchmen, a squinting man dressed all in black barks at us:  “Okay!   Facilliate!”

     We stare at him.  He stares back.  We don't move.  Encircling us, at the edges of the library, sort of exactly like the Guardians at the Ends of the World, are all seven Vice Principals, all with their arms folded.  They don't move either.

      “Come on!” the next bouncer finally says, a big woman with frizzy hair.  “Facillitate!”

     Next to me, Dan, a fellow English teacher, raises his hand.  “Um, what do you mean, facilliate?”

     Frizzy says, “Facilliate means ‘to help.’ “

     Dan opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again.  “Yes, we know what the word means.   I just don’t understand what you want us to do.  Facilliate what?  What do you want us to do?

     Our principal, Mr. Suspenders, appears suddenly from behind the bookshelves.  Has he been hiding there all this time?   He takes the microphone.  “Come on guys. This isn’t rocket science.  This is public school.”  Before we can quite digest what this means exactly - public school is for stupid people?  Is he really saying that? - he storms out, leaving us alone with the three henchmen, Frizzy, Squinty and the Silencer, a big heavy guy who looks like a hit man for the mob.  The Guardians of the World still stand in silence; one of them, Stacy, fiddles with the chocolate chip cookies laid out on the  librarian’s desk table.

     Silencer stares us down, arms folded.  We stare back.  Within a minute or two, we've won the Stare Contest.

     The award is that Frizzy woman  decides that a change in tone is in order -- God forbid a change in topic!  She asks us to ‘brainstorm for five minutes’ what our worries are.  We chat for five minutes about where we're going for lunch.  Then we start to feel sorry for the gym teachers we don’t know and we introduce ourselves to each oher.  I find out that one of the gym teachers just lost her pregnancy after a series of complications.  “Oh, I’m so sorry!” I say, feeling terrible for her.  She says she’s still bleeding, but she has to come in today even though she could ‘barely make it out of bed this morning,’ because she has taken all her sick days.

     Frizzy woman takes out a huge purple marker, smiles at us in what is supposed to a friendly fashion and, with the marker poised in front of the poster paper, she says, "Okay!  Tell me about your worries.  What are you worried about right now?  What are your concerns?   She writes down, WORRIES, on top of the paper.

     We oblingly tell her that our worries mostly boil down to:   "What is our goal today?”  or “What do you want us to do?”

     After spending another 15 minutes carefully cataloguing these concerns in various permutations, Frizzy woman then ignores all our questions and instead passes out still more paper, this time pumpkin orange.  On the top of the paper is the word, “FACILIATE” and below it says how important it is to listen and how one good method is to have a ‘paraphrase passport” in order to speak.  A ‘paraphrase passport,” the orange pumpkin paper informs us, is a sort of entry ticket that you must use before you speak; you must paraphrase what someone just said before you state your view.  We're high school teachers. Many of us are in our forties and fifties.  Some people have been teaching for 20, 30 years.

     Frizzy woman smiles benignly at us.  Silencer has moved over to the door, like a bouncer blocking the exit (entrance to freedom?).  She says, “So, let’s faciliate!”

     At the table behind me, my fellow English teacher, a backstabber and excellent self-promoter who thinks he's hot shit but isn't - I call him Mark Twain because he has a Mark Twain mustache - has fallen asleep, but in a clever way so none of the Guardians notice—his back is to all of them and he faces only Frizzy, who doesn’t seem to notice he is fast asleep.  His mustache buzzes slightly.  Lucky Mark Twain! Two of the far tables have begun openly talking – teachers are terrible for talking and openly disregarding rules – because the Guardian nearby them has been called out via her beeper.  We, unfortunately, are positioned right next to the Gang Of Three.

     Dan raises his hand again.  I love Dan.   “This is—“

     Frizzy interrupts by raising her hand.  “Now, remember!  You need to restate what I’m saying.   And try to use a Paraphrase Passport.  Maybe you can use yoru paper this time and pretend it’s a Paraphrase Passport

     Dan takes the pumpkin paper, slides it over, and then says, “You know, this is pretty insulting and demeaning.”

     Wow.  The room is silent; even the far tables stop speaking.  We all wait to see what Frizzy will say.

.     Frizzy says,  "Hmm..   You think passport is insulting. Hmm.  Well, it can be useful, particularly in cases when people have trouble getting along."

     Without missing a beat, Dan says:  "You’re saying that I think that the passport is insulting."

     Frizzy is oblivous.  “Yes, I see that you feel that the passport is insulting.  However , it can be useful, particularly in cases when people have trouble getting along …"

     Dan smiles.  I really don’t know what’s possessing him, but it’s awesome.  I put my hand over my face so Frizzy can't see me grinning.  " So you're  saying that I’m saying that you’re saying that I’m saying that the passport is insulting."

     "Yes, I"—Finally her reptilian brain has grasped that Dan is joking.  She slowly smiles.  “That’s funny!  Yes, that’s what I’m saying—"

     But the Bald Guy clearly thinks we’ve overstepped out bonds.  He walks up to Frizzy and pushes her out of the way (yes, he pushes.)  She steps aside quckly:

     “You need to think outside of the box!  You're used to  being told what to do.  We’re giving you an open-ended question!  Ok?  YOU decide what you’ll be talking about.  Now!  Decide!”

     Here is what I decided at that point.  

     I decided I'm sick of being treated with suspicion and contempt.  NCLB has seemed to worsen, rather than improve, the status and autonomy of teachers today.  Teachers have all the responsibility when things go wrong, but none of the responsibility to help make it go right.  I would wager a great deal that this scene above will resonate with most teachers.  And I decided I'm tired of teachers having no voice in our national 'discussions' on education.  I decided that I wanted to start this blog and invite all teachers to share their voices.  

    Next entry I'll start to discuss our newest national 'plan' to whip us teachers back into shape, and what's wrong with it and why.